UN Lebanon Greening Restaurants: A Business with an Impact
29 September 2022
Many people wonder about the fate of foodwaste at restaurants. Read Aline’s story on how UNLebanon is helping restaurants transform foodwaste to artistic items.
"Generating profit might be easy, but it's hard to reach a point where you're proud of your work," says Aline Kamakian, 53, owner of Mayrig Restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon.
Over the past nine years, Aline has been working on reducing the environmental footprint of her business, and today she is transforming Mayrig into a zero-waste project with passion, perseverance, and hard work.Instead of throwing away leftovers, plastics, and glass bottles together in landfills, Aline transforms food waste into compost that nourishes plants and plastics and glass into new useful items despite the challenges.
From a Father's Dream to a Mother's Recipe
Aline launched Mayrig in 2003 to fulfill her father's dream of having a restaurant that serves authentic Armenian food. She has been working with Armenian mothers on creating recipes and platters and ended up calling the restaurant "Mayrig," which means mother in Armenian. "The restaurant's name salutes mothers for their efforts to preserve Armenian culture and traditions, and the business aims to support Armenian mothers by offering them job opportunities and ways to generate profit," Aline explains.
With wit and kindness, Aline convinced her employees about the importance of working towards greening her restaurant: "When we first started sorting, my employees thought that the extra tasks were inefficient and exhausting. But, with time, they started realizing the importance of sorting for Lebanon's environment. So today, they're keen on sorting and treating waste like we do."
Aline handled this process alone for nine years until the financial crisis hit Lebanon in 2019. With the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, business owners started moving towards reducing costs. As a result, the cost of sorting, composting, and recycling became an extra burden for Aline's business, and greening Mayrig was thus compromised for the sake of other priorities. "The high expense of transporting the food waste into the composting facilities threatened the sustenance of the initiative," Aline explains.
UN Lebanon Supports Green Restaurants & Circular Economy
Before giving up on her dream, Aline's last option was to resort to funding opportunities. Fortunately, UN Lebanon, through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Regional Office for West Asia based in Beirut, was looking for restaurants in Mar Mikhael – Gemmayze area to partner with on targeting the waste problem in Lebanon. Under this project, which is part of the SwitchMed II Programme funded by the European Union and implemented in collaboration with local civil society organization NUSANED between July 2022 and June 2023, the UN is supporting Mayrig by collecting their food waste. "I no longer have to worry about managing the composting of food waste because someone is taking care of that," Aline explains.
Under the same project, UNEP regional office is also partnering with seven other restaurants in the same area by providing, through NUSANED, advisory services, and technical support around plastic waste management, food waste management, greening restaurants, and ways for allowing circular businesses to flourish.
In addition to restaurants, the UN is also working with households to raise their awareness on the importance of plastic prevention, reuse and recycle and incentivize them to contribute to circular economy. “For each kilogram of plastics that households put in our bins, they receive points that eventually become shopping vouchers at local businesses in the area, and this is one of the incentive mechanisms we will be using for the purpose of encouraging waste prevention under this project. This way, we are supporting families by increasing their purchasing power and local businesses by promoting their sales”, says Rasha Sukkarieh, the programme manager at NUSANED. She adds: “By doing this, we are creating a circular and more sustainable economy in the area.”
Today, Mayrig alone produces around 20Kgs of food waste and 4 to 7 Kg of plastic per day. In a country struggling with waste management, Aline hopes this initiative would reduce the negative impact of restaurants on the environment. "Multiply these numbers by 3000, which is the estimated number of restaurants in Lebanon. Imagine what all this plastic and waste are doing to our environment and health when dumped in the sea and on land?" Aline says.
Greening Restaurants is Colorful
In addition to reducing Mayrig's environmental footprint, Aline also relies on recycling to decorate her restaurant. She is turning wine bottles into colorful decorative chandeliers hung on the ceiling that cannot be missed when you enter the place. She also decorates her terrace with a green wall made from recycled plastic. For Aline, protecting the environment is vital for sustaining her business: "When you protect the environment, encourage tourism, attract new businesses, and sustain your business, it's a cycle!" Aline says.